To most of us, the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown, Johannesburg is a place to take the kids on a holiday weekend where they can learn about science and we can grab a coffee. Behind the scenes, though, it runs 30 or more education programs, many of which are designed to get underprivileged youth into high tech jobs, and do something about the massive skills gap in the city and country at large.
And to make that job easier, one programme based on the French skills development and self-styled “startup factory”, Simplon, just got a permanent home at the centre, in the SAP Simplon Laboratory, opened on Friday afternoon.
The new lab will act as a base for students inducted into the five month long course. The first cohort is currently five weeks in to its studies, and plans are in place to begin recruitment for a second class to begin in February.
“When we started Sci-Bono we had no intention to go into IT skills development,” explains centre CEO David Kramer, “Then we started training students in basic IT so they could go to university, and ended up doing more and more sophisticated projects as the needs became apparent.
“So we’ve taken the decision to set up a proper IT training component within Sci-Bono so young people who live in townships will get the opportunities to learn that they won’t be able to access through commercial training providers.”
Kramer says that the fact so many Gauteng youth don’t currently have access to training is a problem for all.
“The bulk of this provinces population lives in the townships,” he says, “So it follows that the bulk of the talent must be in the townships and it’s not being developed. That’s a missed economic opportunity.”
If the programme is successful, says Kramer, he’d like to expand it to other science centres and through community organisations like Siyafunda.
“Simplon is about training and skills,” Vladescu-Olt says, “Our first objective remains entrepreneurship, which is the most fascinating and risky kind of empowerment you can give. For the last program in France around a third of graduates are now employed, and a further third are involved in entrepreneurial activity.”
Vladescu-Olt says that encouraging more entrepreneurs will be vital to tackle the unemployment crisis across the continent.
“Impact, from my point of view, is very hard to measure,” he says, “As it can come three to five years from now. In Africa there’s lots of things happening at once: [there’s increasing] access to hardware and internet penetration is growing fast. [For us] it’s a question of nudging people in the right direction.”